Yes/No demographics and the conservatism of the young

Ashcroft’s breakdown of Yes/No voting is interesting if you like baseless tossed-off morning-after speculation (which you do, you dawg).


Incidentally, Martin Kettle suggested at some bleary godless hour this morning that women had “saved the union”:

In the polls, men were decisively in favour of yes. The yes campaign was in some sense a guy thing. Men wanted to make a break with the Scotland they inhabit. Women didn’t.

I don’t know whether he was looking at a different poll, maybe one written in purple and orange on the inside of his eyelids, but I don’t think the figures above reflect that, so I suspect the usual gender narratives are at work here. Those women and their fearful conservatism eh? Tcoh.

Much has been made of the staggering 16/17 year old vote and the mirror opposite 65+ vote (I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like the latter broken down further by the way. Now that we no longer, all being well, routinely drop dead three years after retirement age as soon as all our paperwork is in order it seems silly to group 65 year olds with 80 year olds.)

More interesting, if you are a person who likes to whiffle on about cohorts and conservatism and the young and all that jazz, are the wild downward swing in the Yes vote among 18-24 year olds and the (lesser but still probably outwith the margin of error) upswing in Yes in the 25-34 year old group, before the march towards No resumes. I’ve read suggestions that the first of these patterns is about economic security – maybe the 18-24s, being on the sharp end of most economic indicators going, are inclined to hedge their bets. So by the same token maybe their older siblings, being a little more established, are more at ease with economic risk. But this doesn’t altogether satisfy me, partly because I have just never bought this idea that people construe their bank balances in terms of macro-economics in the way that they will often vaguely imply they do, and partly because it isn’t really established that a No vote was a vote for Steady Now economics anyway. In fact, the Yes campaign did their very best to paint it as a hair-tearingly disastrous risk for the future of the economically vulnerable.

Perhaps there is something more abstract going on here though, a conservatism of life stages rather than of economics in the raw. You could say that a characteristic of the average 18-24 year old life is uncertainty and the unknown. It’s not so much that they live on beans (which actually one does perfectly cheerfully at that age) as that they are looking at their blank page futures post-graduation, or have just been plunged into the maelstrom of work and don’t really understand how it’s all going to pan out. The Steady Now is not so much economic as social. They are trying out adulthood for size (certainly I was) and that default “nae bothered” is a bit of a pose that conceals a very real fear about what the world is going to end up doing to you. The 25-34 year olds, formally speaking, are just as economically fucked on the whole – they are also on the business end of the ageing population, the pensionable age change and the housing crisis. And they have had it harder in some ways – when I was 25 ten years ago there was already a housing crisis – it’s just that no-one gave a fairy-shaped shit. At least everyone knows and acknowledges that 18-24 year olds now are fucked.

But what the 25-34 year old group contains are people who have nonetheless pieced together a life (ha!) if only out of eggboxes and bits of string. They are probably at the stage of making some hefty life choices, insofar as those choices are economically available to them. The referendum may not be the scariest thing they have had to make a decision about this year. They have perhaps weathered a few personal, financial and professional crises of their own, and realised that the world doesn’t end. They just may be more at ease than the very young with the idea of the coins being thrown in the air, just to see whether they fall out any better.


  1. Looking at the full numbers (PDF) only 14 sixteen/seventeen year olds were questioned and whilst I’m not a polling expert I’d put the margin of error around 100%

  2. Another issue here – which strengthens your theory – is that there can be cohort differences in risk aversion (not just pure age differences) because of macroeconomic experiences in formative years, For example, 18-24 year-olds were 12-18 years old when the financial crisis began, and this might have left a big impression and so increased their awareness of risk. By contrast, a 35yo’s formative years were spent in times of economic stability, and this might increase their appetite for risk; there’s a reason why adverts for online bookies are aimed at 30-somethings.
    In saying all this, I’m echoing this paper which shows that economic experiences in formative years affect attitudes to risk even decades later:

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